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Early Response Team


The Mission of an Early Response Team is to provide a caring Christian presence in the aftermath of a disaster.

An early response team fills a specific need in the early days after a disaster to establish the caring presence of the church and to provide hope for the survivors. This team is not a first response group of emergency workers or a recovery rebuild or repair team. While there are specific tasks assigned to early response teams, no task is more important than the people they serve.
It is also important to understand that ER Teams are trained primarily to respond within their own conference. Your team does not need an invitation to respond in your own community or in your own Methodist district. To travel to another district, conference, or jurisdiction, requires the invitation by the affected community. Each individual annual conference must decide how and when it will use ERTs and how they fit into the conference disaster response plan. 

Definition of a Disaster

  • Overwhelming physical, economic, and/or emotional damage
  • Harm to people and property
  • Disrupts normal pattern of living
  • Can overwhelm a community
  • May affect individuals, families, neighborhoods, communities, regions

Types of Disasters

  • Natural disasters
  • Technical disasters
  • Economic disasters
  • Civil disasters
  • Accidents
  • Other

video: What is ERT?


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Staffing for Early Response
Careful attention should be given here to the titles and responsibilities for early response team members.
Team Size
Team size will vary based on the situation to which a team responds. UMCOR suggests that if 7 people are a team then all the functions would be covered. There is a need to recruit at least 3 times as many persons as the size of team you wish to deploy. This will allow the possibility of deploying 2 or 3 teams at once should everyone be available.
However, at the time of any disaster occurrence, at least half the people you were counting on for assistance will be unavailable.
UMCOR further suggests that in a pool of 30 volunteers that 6 of them are designated as team leaders, 3 in logistics and at least 3 trained in the ministry of caring who can function as listeners. One person should be in charge of equipment maintenance, and at least one construction consultant should be available who can be called upon to give advice in plumbing, electrical and structural concerns.
Team Functions and Responsibilities:
Following are the roles, along with a brief job description for positions UMCOR considers essential to most team:
• Team Leader– This is the person in charge of the early response team. This person needs to be a leader and have an over-all understanding of the role of early response teams. This person will relate directly to the conference early response team coordinator. It should be the responsibility of the team leader to direct the work of the team.
• Assistant Team Leader– This person serves as a back up to the team leader. If it is necessary for the team leader to leave the work site, the assistant then would take over the responsibilities of directing the team.
• Logistics– This person is responsible for helping the team find needed supplies and for transportation of the team. Logistics is also responsible for site safety! This person identifies potential dangers for the team as well as determine if the team is equipped and qualified for the task.
• Base Camp Manager– This person is responsible for food, cooking, water and preparing a place to sleep if it is necessary for the team to spend the night. If the team is totally self-sufficient, the BCM shops for food and creates a schedule of who cooks, cleans, etc. so that the load is shared. The BCM works alongside the team during the day.
• Equipment Maintenance– This person is responsible for keeping any equipment in the trailer in good working order. This person may be able to do this in off hours or in an “as needed” role but should also accompany the team to a disaster site.
• Safety Officer – In addition to the safety functions performed by the logistics person, another member of the team is designated to pay particular attention to the individual team members’ safety. This person checks that the proper personal safety equipment is being used and that all team members are performing at optimal efficiency. When a team member starts to get tired, it is the responsibility of the safety officer to pull that person out to rest or hydrate as necessary.
• Listener/Team recorder – This person is the one person on the team who is designated to be the listener to the survivors. While all members of the team should ALWAYS put people before their task, this person should be a good listener. This person is NOT to provide pastoral care, but should listen to the survivors and get their story. This person will keep the records and forms for the team and be able to refer the survivors’ needs to members of the Conference Disaster Response Team.
The following are attributes that are important for any person who would serve on an early response team:
• Possess a spiritual commitment
• Understand that people are ALWAYS more important than the task at hand
• Be trained prior to assignment
• Have a positive attitude
• Be observant … listen
• Be understanding of cultural differences
• Be understanding of the psychological stress survivors are suffering
• Be willing to admit you do not have all the answers
• Be realistic about issues and problems that are likely to be faced
• Understand that ownership of disaster must stay with the local community.

What do Early Response Teams do?
1. Provide a Christian presence… This does not sound like a task…and is NOT, however it can be the MOST important thing a team can do
2. Take steps to prevent further damage to a family’s personal property (stabilize):
• Tarping 
• Debris removal
• Cleaning out of flooded homes 
3. Teams may be asked to manage donated materials, gather information, or other things as deemed necessary by the community
4. Observe survivor’s needs and report these to the local operations.
5. Be a part of the caring ministry of “listeners” who will help the survivor begin to heal.
• Teams must be careful NOT to perform work on a home that might jeopardize the survivor’s eligibility for assistance from insurance and/or government agencies.
– Do not make repairs.
– The team may wish to take take pictures before beginning work to verify homeowner’s situation.
• Teams should have written permission to work on people’s homes or to remove personal belongings. It is always best to have the homeowner present when working.

Definition of a Disaster:
• A disaster is any specific event which results in overwhelming physical, economic and/or emotional damage to a community.
• Results in significant harm to people and property
• Disrupts normal pattern of living
• Affects individuals, families, neighborhoods, communities, regions.
Types of Disasters:
• Natural disaster: storms, earthquakes or other natural phenomena
• Technical disaster: careless, accidental or intentional abuse of the environment
• Economic disaster: sudden loss of income due to shifts in local economy
• Civil disaster: riots or civil disturbances in a community
• Accident: traffic accidents, fire or other tragic occurrences
• Other: pandemics, terrorism, war
Phases of a Disaster
Readiness: The initial phase of a disaster is readiness. It is planning how to respond when an emergency or disaster occurs and working to marshal the resources to respond effectively. These activities help save lives and minimize damage by preparing people to respond appropriately when an emergency is imminent or hits and becomes a disaster.
Rescue: Rescue/emergency is the phase that covers the period during and immediately following a disaster. During this phase, public officials provide emergency assistance to preserve life and property.
Relief: Relief immediately follows the rescue/emergency phase and sometimes the two activities may coincide. During the relief phase, work is done to help prevent any further damage from occurring. Families may be allowed to return home at this time or may still be in temporary housing/shelters if homes are significantly damaged. Early Response Teams may be activated at this time to assist families as may Care Teams. Conference personnel are beginning to assess the damage and the conference’s ability to respond and provide long-term assistance if needed.
Recovery: Recovery follows the time of providing relief work. It continues until all systems return to normal or near normal operation. Short-term recovery restores vital life support systems to minimum operating conditions. Long-term recovery may go on for months—even years—until the entire disaster area returns to its previous condition or undergoes improvement with new features that are less disaster-prone.
Review : Review occurs after each phase and at the completion of a recovery effort. Participating agencies come together and discuss what worked well and what did not. From these discussions there is usually a recommendation to the communities on ways to improve response for the next event.
Levels of Disasters
• Low Level – involves a limited number of households; assistance provided by local churches and districts, with notification to district superintendent
• Medium Level – involves an entire community or several scattered communities, assistance provided by organizing district response through the district disaster coordinator and district superintendent.
• High Level -involves a wide area and requires a massive response by state and national agencies. Disaster response committee organizes a conference-wide response to the crisis and assists districts and local churches.

Why is there a need for Early Response Teams?
1. It provides immediate assistance to persons, usually older or disabled, who might not have their support system (family) nearby to assist.
2. It is an opportunity for Christian service for those who want to give of their time.
3. It reassures survivors that the church cares about them.
4. It provides visibility and reassurance for the United Methodist Church.
5. It speeds the response to survivors. We, as United Methodists, can be “first in” and “last out.”


The Rev. Bob Pihlcrantz manages ERT certifications and training.

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